This unit is all about the small details, and nothing in grammar could be smaller — but no less important — than prepositions. A prepositional phrase is a group of words that includes a preposition, its object, and any words that modify the object. Most of the time, a prepositional phrase modifies a verb or a noun, but it can be a gerund or even a clause. Here are some examples:
- He arrived in time.
- How much is that book about grammar?
To these two basic elements, modifiers can be freely added.
- He arrived in the nick of time.
- How much is that book about modern English grammar?
Some of the most common prepositions that begin prepositional phrases are to, of, about, at, before, after, by, behind, during, for, from, in, over, under, and with.
Prepositional phrases that modify nouns
When a prepositional phrase describes a noun, you call it an adjectival phrase because adjectives modify nouns. Here are some examples:
- The cat in the middle is the cutest.
- I always buy my milk from the convenience store on Main Street.
- My mother has always wanted to live in a cabin by the lake.
In the first of these sentences, in the middle answers the question of which cat the writer thinks is the cutest. Similarly, on Main Street gives you information about which store the writer is describing, and by the lake tells you what kind of cabin the writer’s mother is dreaming about. All of these adjectival phrases provide additional specific details to a noun in order to improve your understanding.
Prepositional phrases that modify verbs
When a prepositional phrase describes a verb, you call it an adverbial phrase because adverbs modify verbs. Here are some examples:
- To find the person who stole the last cookie, look behind you.
- Harry drank his Butterbeer with fervor.
In the first sentence, behind you answers the question “Look where?” In the second, with fervor answers the question “Drank how?”
Prepositional phrases that act as nouns
Less frequently, prepositional phrases can act like nouns in a sentence. Here are some examples:
- During the national anthem is the worst time to blow your nose.
- After the game will be too late for us to go to dinner.
Watch this short video to learn more about prepositional phrases:
Now practice with this exercise; it is not graded, and you may repeat it as many times as you wish:
1. My fingers were injured so my sister had to write the note __________________ me.
2. Which sentence uses a prepositional phrase incorrectly?
- Have you written a letter your mother yet? She wants to hear from you, you know.
- Before I begin my speech, I want to welcome to our meeting all of the visitors from India.
- How many times must I ask you to take out the garbage, Paul?
- Please do not talk during the concert; it is very distracting for the singers.
3. Which sentence uses a prepositional phrase incorrectly?
- Be careful with that knife; it is very sharp!
- Where in the garden did you want me to plant the cabbage?
- There are too many difficult questions on this exam. Please make it easier next time, won’t you?
- I celebrate my birthday in the 8th of May.
4. Since he met his new boyfriend, Juan never seems to be __________________ home.
5. What is a prepositional phrase?
- a group of words that includes a subject and a verb, but it does not express a complete idea
- a noun that is modified with one or more adjectives
- a group of words that includes a subject and a verb, and it expresses a complete idea
- a group of words that includes a preposition, an object; it may also include modifiers
6. Which parts of the sentence below are prepositional phrases? (Choose all that apply.)
- For our vacation
- my best friend and I
- were thinking
- last night
- of going
- to a cabin
- in the woods
- for the weekend.
7. Choose the best preposition to complete each sentence:
- Please place your book __________________ the shelf.
- The final exam will begin __________________ noon.
- The new student is __________________ Argentina.
Optional: Where to get more information
If you want more instruction and examples about prepositions, try these links:
Video from: Smrt English. “Prepositional Phrases.” www.youtube.com, 15 Nov. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=RS3bKw_cyow. Accessed 30 Dec. 2021.